The Language of Love (Part 2): The Art of Flirting
Updated: Jun 16
In this final part of two about pick-up lines and flirting in Mandarin Chinese, we look at a few of the most used flirting tactics, such as the not-so-subtle art of 撒娇 (sājiāo). Originally posted on WeChat (Oct. 16th, 2020) via the independent media group Date Night China, this piece will presumably be reposted on the Beijinger's website in the coming weeks.
See Original posting here.
In the first part of this two part post about pick-up lines and flirting in Mandarin Chinese, you learned a few of the most hackneyed and corny pick-up lines. In this second segment, we’ll up your flirting game by teaching you some vital flirting methods and terminology when being a flirt in Mandarin Chinese. But first, let’s look at the terms in Chinese that mean to flirt.
There are two terms in Mandarin Chinese for the English word to flirt. Namely, they are 调情 (tiáoqíng) and the chengyu 打情骂俏 (dǎ qíng mà qiào).
When it’s just an exchange of linguistic wit and playful banter between adults, the term 调情 (tiáoqíng) is the more fitting translation because it only implies an exchange of words and not a childish, physical style of flirtation. 打情骂俏 (dǎ qíng mà qiào), on the other hand, denotes a slapstick style of flirting. Think about how kids in grade school will physically taunt their crush or how adolescent lovers playfully hit and nag each other. That’s 打情骂俏 (dǎ qíng mà qiào).
If you break down this chengyu’s character components the sense of knockabout witticism is evident: 打 (dǎ) means to hit/strike, 情 (qíng) feelings/sentiments, 骂 (mà) here means to scold and 俏 (qiào) here means witty or clever. So, A direct translation would be to strike feelings, to scold wit. Sounds like the name of a martial arts themed rom-com set in a high school, doesn’t it?
Last point before honing your inner flirt: As within any linguistic situation, be aware of context and all relevant cultural and personal history between you and the receiver of your amorous prattle. For instance, I would highly discourage you from trying the below tactics out on your neighborhood bao an (保安 bǎo'ān n. security guard).
Now let’s get into the art of flirting and a few words that, based on context, are showing a little bit of skin.
Like in any language, giving someone a pet name is a clear indicator of flirting. Usually these pet names are either run-of-the-mill like honey (哈尼hāní), baby/babe (宝贝bǎobèi) or beloved (亲爱的 qīn'ài de), or a cute variation of your lover’s first name. For instance, being that my name is Rochelle, I’ve had guys call me the endearing pet name of 肉肉 (ròu ròu meat meat). The first time I was called this, I thought the guy was calling me fat.
So be careful when deciding what to call your sweetie and, if you’re on the receiving end, be super aware of context clues and who is doing the christening of the cute diminutive. Chinese parents also use this structure of doubling the first syllable of the first name when lovingly referring to their children. An ex’s parents are fond of calling him 涵涵 (hán hán).
Use of Interjections Like 哦 (ó)
A guaranteed way to add a flirty nuance to your text messages or in-person conversations is by adding a lot of interjections to your speech. For instance, if you really want to make it obvious that you’re flirtatiously wishing someone sweet dreams (see explanation below), just add an 哦(ó) to the end of your 好梦 (hǎo mèng). Please note that 哦 (ó), when used in this way, sounds a little bit girly and naive. Actually, a lot, if not all, of the injections you can use to be flirty have a girly, naive sense to them.
Another frequently used interjection while flirting is 啊 (a). When used in a playful manner, 啊(a) indicates friendliness, intimacy and enthusiasm. However, once again, be conscious of context clues because this interjection, when used at the end of a statement and toneless, can also denote the speaker’s impatience. I cannot stress this enough: Context clues really are important!
Besides the use of interjections another way to add that flirty edge is to double up words, especially nouns or verbs. This is a tactic out of the 撒娇 (sājiāo) handbook. 撒娇 (sājiāo) is when an adult, usually a young woman, acts like a helpless, spoiled brat in order to get her way or the undivided attention of her lover.
The most cited example of 撒娇 (sājiāo) in Chinese cinema is the street food scene from the 2014 romantic comedy Women Who Flirt (撒娇女人最好命 sājiāo nǚrén zuì hǎo mìng). In this exemplary scene, the female protagonist, Angie, meets her longtime friend and crush’s new girlfriend. This new sweetheart turns out to be a 撒娇 (sājiāo) master and uses every trick in the 撒娇 (sājiāo) manual, even doubling up words such as 兔兔( tù tù n. bunny). If you’re interested in schooling yourself in 撒娇 (sājiāo), watch this movie.
好梦 (hǎo mèng)’s Flirtation Side
好梦 (hǎo mèng) when translated into English is equivalent to wishing someone sweet dreams, but when used in the context of flirting or between friends where at least one has amorous feelings for the other, it implies a level of intimacy similar to lovers apart wishing each other good night and then drifting off to dreamland where they’re able to tenderly embrace each other. At least this is what I learned the hard way when I once casually wished an acquaintance who, unbeknownst to me, was crushing on me hard. So, be careful to whom you wish sweet dreams.
When used in the context of acting spoiled to get someone’s undivided attention or what you want, 人家 (rénjiā) does not refer to a household (人rén n. people; 家 jiā n. house). As a term from the撒娇 (sājiāo) toolbox, 人家 (rénjiā) means “I” or “me” and playfully expresses displeasure or annoyance.
When used in everyday speech, 讨厌 (tǎoyàn) means to either hate/dislike something/someone or to find something/someone disgusting/hard to handle. However, similar to 人家 (rénjiā), when used as a 撒娇 (sājiāo) tactic, 讨厌 (tǎoyàn) doesn’t simply imply loathing someone or finding something revolting. Instead, it is an obnoxious, teasing way to express frustration or a brattish way to just be kittenish.
The last term we’re going to go over is an onomatopoeia. A slang term that was coined on the internet, 么么哒 (memedá) is the sound your lips make when kissing or blowing a round of air-kisses to your sugar pie. But, when used between good girlfriends, 么么哒 (memedá) portrays the strong bond of sisterhood and the platonic love you have for each other.
I hope you enjoyed this two part blurb on pick-up lines and flirting in Mandarin Chinese, and found at least some of it helpful for communicating with love interests in China. Like with any skill, the art of being coquettish comes with practice.
So, get out there and test your newfound skills!
加油 (Jiāyóu good luck)!